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Farmland, fragile habitat protected on Conn. River

October 14, 2009
MAIDSTONE — A fertile stretch of farmland along the Connecticut River has been permanently protected from development.

According to a press release from the Vermont Land Trust (VLT,)Roger and Susan Irwin conserved their 141-acre farm with the organization. Because this conservation project protected farmland and an ecologically sensitive area of the river, both the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB) and the Upper Connecticut River Mitigation and Enhancement Fund (MEF) of the N. H. Charitable Foundation funded the project.

"We are pleased with being able to conserve our land for future agricultural use after seeing how the easement on former Champion Lands has protected them from development," said Roger Irwin in the press release. "It has encouraged us to do the same on our agricultural lands."

The Irwin Farm has been in Roger's family since 1959. Roger and Susan sold their dairy herd earlier this decade, and Roger became a professional photographer, specializing in capturing images of nature and wildlife.

The couple now rents the land to the Peaslee family. One hundred acres of the Irwin's land is tillable and rated as having statewide-important agricultural soils. It's used for hay and other crops, most recently barley.

The Irwin Farm is located along the free-flowing Maidstone Bends section of the Connecticut River and also includes an old oxbow, several small wetlands, and a large natural beach that is popular with canoeists and anglers.

"We are fortunate to have rich and beautiful land to both work on and enjoy recreationally," Mr. Irwin explained. "We feel comfortable that our family will be able to continue to use the land for agriculture and maintain wildlife habitat."

The Irwins protected nearly a mile of Connecticut River shoreline. Forests along riverbanks — known as floodplain forests — filter water running off the land. In the process, they trap sediments, nutrients, chemicals, and other pollutants, and help prevent flooding. "We've studied floodplain forests along the river and are working to restore the forest along these stretches of the Connecticut," said Tamara Colten-Stevens of the Essex County Natural Resources Conservation District. "The permanent conservation of this farm and the provisions for protective buffer zones along waterways further these goals"

The conservation easement stipulates a minimum 50-foot buffer along the Connecticut River, as well as a protection zone covering the floodplain forest and wetland areas. Forest management will be permitted in these areas to allow continued enrollment in the state's Use Value Appraisal program.

"VLT continues to be very interested in working with interested farmland owners along the upper Connecticut River to protect prime agricultural soils, and even more excited when we can marry the conservation of great agricultural land with the protection of sensitive riparian and wetland areas," explained Tracy Zschau, the Northeast Kingdom Regional Director VLT who works out of its St. Johnsbury office in an e-mail exchange earlier this year.

The Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB) drew on Farm and Ranchland Protection Funds from the federal Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) as its funding source.

Ms. Zschau summed up the project's great appeal: "The high agricultural value of these properties combined with their significant ecological, riparian and recreational values, provided a great opportunity to match VHCB and MEF conservation goals and funds on the same properties by balancing protection of the productive agricultural land and enhancing public access opportunities with appropriate protection of the adjoining riparian and natural heritage values."

Matin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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